RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's decision to reduce United Nations staff at the Western Sahara mission is sovereign and irreversible, but the government is committed to military cooperation with the U.N. to guarantee the ceasefire there, the foreign minister said on Thursday.
Morocco this month asked the U.N. to pull out more than 80 staffers and close a military liaison office after criticizing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for using the word "occupation" to describe Morocco's annexation of the disputed territory.
"Our decision is sovereign and irreversible," Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar told reporters in Rabat.
He said military contacts with the U.N. mission, known as MINURSO, had not been disrupted and Morocco was committed to cooperation to ensure the continuity of the ceasefire.
Morocco took over most of the territory in 1975 from colonial Spain. That started a guerrilla war with the Sahrawi people's Polisario Front who say the desert territory on Africa's northwest belongs to them.
The U.N. brokered a ceasefire in 1991 and sent in its MINURSO mission, which consists of military and civilian staff, to monitor the ceasefire and organize a referendum over the region's future. But deadlock has delayed the vote for years.
Mezouar said Morocco was ready for serious talks that would not ignore the reasons for the current situation.
Polisario representatives say Morocco is putting a ceasefire at risk by expelling U.N. staffers and trying to scuttle the referendum, including on the question of independence. Morocco has offered an autonomy plan as the only way forward.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Mark Potter)